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The Three People You'll Meet in Every Writers' Group

Not long after I joined my first writers’ group and started participating in critique circles, I discovered there were three types of people involved. The first I’ll call the Little Old Me set. These members clearly enjoyed offering comments and suggestions, though some of them simply listened, week after week, and deferred to those they considered more experienced. Whenever asked about their own work, they set responded with a litany of excuses, details from their busy lives. Or they said they were working on something, but it wasn’t ready.

During the years I attended the group, I rarely saw any of the Little Old Me ladies (sorry, but these were mostly women) progress, and many of them fell by the wayside as the demands of jobs and family overwhelmed them.

Then there was the next category, composed of writers eager to read their work at every opportunity. These members clearly loved an audience, but had little patience for constructive feedback. If it wasn’t praise, they argued — or “retaliated” by attacking their “critics’” work (jumping on anal-retentive issues such as margins or comma usage with savage glee). If they weren’t hyper-critiquing nonsensical stuff to make themselves feel superior, these members were insisting upon reading their contributions (which often far-exceeded the group’s rules on length) and then leaving early. I call this group the Jerks.

And guess what. I never saw any of these guys (they were mainly but not exclusively male) go anywhere with writing, either. However, this was never their fault, and they’d carry on at length about how New York kept down the truly talented and only well-connected sell-outs could place anything in this market. Some went on to self-published, which they felt certain would maximize their earning potential. (And no, I am not suggesting that everyone who self-publishes is a jerk. Far from it.) When that didn’t work out either, they slunk away in cynical disgust.

The third group was the one that kept me coming back. I call this group the Seekers. Eager to learn all they could, they read widely in their chosen genre, sought out expertise on craft, responded with interest (and intelligent suggestions ranging far beyond “Aha! I caught another typo!”) to the work of others, and listened attentively to others’ comments on their own work. Instead of arguing, they jotted notes to think about later, and they ended up taking a lot of the suggestions but not all. Because these writers had a vision for their own work, a long-term target at which they took aim.

These, of course, were the writers who made steady progress. Recognizing each other, they often moved on to form private, closed critique groups, such as the one I have belonged to for about eight years now. Some moved on to publish and some continue working toward that goal, but all of them have learned and grown and few have completely dropped out of the writing scene.

But here's the rub. Every one of us is part Little Old Me, part Jerk, and part Seeker. It’s like the Id, Ego, and Superego of the personality, and not one of us (let’s be honest here) escapes the occasional defeatist thoughts or self-important moments. The question is, which one will we put in charge of our journey?


marion said…
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